On Wednesday, November 9, 1898, a crowd gathered on the corner of 5th and O streets in Provo, Utah, for the opening ceremony of Maeser Elementary School. The ceremony was filled with performances from school children, congregational hymns, a raising of the stars and stripes, and a speech by the school’s namesake, Karl G. Maeser. For years afterwards, the school would continue to hold celebrations on November 9, naming the day “Maeser Day.”
Karl G. Maeser was born and raised in Saxony, Germany. There, he received an unparalleled education that would benefit him throughout his life. In 1855, Maeser and his wife, Anna Therese Meith, were baptized into the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and five years later, they both arrived in Utah Territory, where other members of the Church were gathering. Due to his academic training, Maeser was called to establish an academy for the Church, titled Brigham Young Academy (now Brigham Young University). He was adored and admired by his pupils, astounding them with both his academic knowledge and good character. Consequently, although many public schools at that time were named after American Founding Fathers—something Karl G. Maeser was not—there was no disagreement about naming the new school after him.
The new school building was designed by Richard C. Watkins, the same architect who designed other historic buildings such as the Knight Block Building, the Provo Third Ward Chapel and Amusement Hall, and the Thomas N. Taylor Mansion. The Old Maeser School is deemed the best-preserved example of his work. The school was built of brick, had eight rooms, and cost around $10,000 to construct. When the school was completed, it was able to accommodate 480 students.
By the 21st century, enrollment in Maeser Elementary had dwindled. In 2002, the school closed its doors. The closing of Maeser Elementary impacted not only the families of its students, but the surrounding neighborhood as well. The building had been declining for years, and losing the school hit the community hard. The future of the building was uncertain, and for a time, the school was a target of vandalism. It was almost demolished multiple times by Provo School District. In 2003, the Provo City Housing Authority proposed saving the building by redeveloping it into housing for low-income seniors, and the new Maeser School Apartments opened three years later in 2006. The building continues to be a home for seniors in the area.